Love Story (1970) is a sentimental, romantic tearjerker film from director Arthur Hiller about a tragic couple. [Hiller had passed up the opportunity to work on The Godfather (1972) to make this film.] The melodramatic soap-opera, tremendously popular and a financial success (the top-earning film of the year) but panned by critics for its sappy content, was based upon Erich Segal's best-selling short novel of the same name. The film's tagline, "Love means never having to say you're sorry," appeared slightly differently in Segal's novelization: "Love means not ever having to say you're sorry."
The catchy, haunting, piano-plinking score won the Best Original Score Oscar (the film's sole award) for Francis Lai from its seven Academy Awards nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Ryan O'Neal), Best Supporting Actor (John Marley), Best Actress (Ali MacGraw), Best Director (Arthur Hiller), and Best Original Story and Screenplay (Erich Segal). Beau Bridges, Michael York, Michael Douglas, Jon Voight, Michael Sarrazin and Peter Fonda all turned down the part of Oliver - which ultimately went to Ryan O'Neal.
Told as a flashback, this is an uncomplicated love story between two star-crossed lovers-students, Harvard pre-law hockey player Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) and Radcliffe music student Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw). Oliver narrates the opening line of the film, looking back:
What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?
Their love triumphs over different economic-class backgrounds (he is a "preppie millionaire," she a smart-mouthed "social zero" from a blue-collar Italian/American family). Their main obstacle to romance is that his rich, powerful and snobbish father, Oliver Barrett III (Ray Milland) objects and threatens to cut off funding: "Oliver, if you marry her now, I'll not give you the time of day." To which the younger, bull-headed Oliver defiantly asks: "What offends you more, Father, that she's Catholic, or poor?" He ultimately responds: "Father, you don't know the time of day." The two young lovers marry anyway and first move into a small apartment in Cambridge before Oliver is hired by a New York law firm and they move to the city.
The film's two most touching and remembered scenes are their prolonged kissing scene and the montage of the couple tossing snowballs at each other. After meeting many obstacles and making sacrifices, she is diagnosed as terminally ill when she is tested for pregnancy, and dies in his arms at the hospital in a tear-inducing closing. She makes a last request of him: "You, after all - you're going to be a merry widower." "I won't be merry," he responds. She replies: "Yes, you will be. I want you to be merry. You'll be merry, okay?"
In the final scene, Oliver quotes his late wife, when speaking to his father about their past misunderstandings. After his father tells him he's sorry that she has died, Oliver responds in the last memorable line of the film, quoting an earlier remark of Jenny's:
Love means never having to say you're sorry.
He then walks out into a snowy Central Park to contemplate what life might have been in a touching finale, as the award-winning musical score builds in the background.
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